Evening at The Commons disproves oft heard whine

Published 4:15 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

“Isn’t it awful how little there is to do in towns like Ahoskie and Murfreesboro and Gatesville and Jackson?”

“Isn’t it a pain to have to spend two or three hours on the road, driving to larger towns to find things to do to entertain ourselves?”

If you agree with either of those statements, you’re just not noticing what you see around you every day.

Let me use last weekend as an example – if you need one – of why both those statements are so far off base.

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day. If you’re a guy and you know a girl, you were expected to remember that and do something about it.

I’m a guy and, thanks to my friend Jennifer Hodge, the lady who owns The Commons in Murfreesboro, I fulfilled my responsibility.

Sherry, my favorite wife, and I were having dinner at The Commons two or three weeks ago and Jen told us she was going to do something special for Valentine’s Day, but it would be “Reservations Only.” Smarter than I look, I signed us on.

Jen asked ahead of time if we wanted salmon or chicken that night. We both opted for chicken.

When we got there, we were greeted by Chef Jen, a reference supported both by the diploma on her wall and by the chef’s jacket she was wearing for the occasion, and by her husband, Marvin, in his tuxedo. Marvin was the maître de cum server for the evening. He was assisted by Daniel Litteral, aka server, aka dishwasher, aka Chowan student. Marvin greeted each female guest that evening with a long-stemmed red rose.

We spent a few minutes visiting with Jen and Marvin and the friends who were joining us for dinner, then Marvin seated us in the dining room. Throughout the evening, he maintained an easily comfortable combination of all the attributes of the perfect server combined with the easy approach of a good friend. He made it obvious that his sole purpose that evening was to see that you had whatever you wanted, usually before you knew you wanted it. Into that he folded an easy knowledge of any wine available at The Commons (and there is a varied selection) as well as of the menu for the evening and of how things should be done at a formal (albeit comfortably so) dinner.

Dinner started with encrusted brie, a pastry filled with cheese and drizzled with a raspberry coulis. It was delicious, but I promise not to say that about anything else, because everything was and I would soon become very repetitious.

Next came a wonderful, creamy, wild rice and mushroom soup followed by a salad.

Then Marvin served a Riesling-Ginger sorbet which set the stage for the main course.

For Sherry and me, that main course was artichoke chicken and perfectly prepared asparagus spears, one of my favorite vegetables in the whole world. The chicken was excellent.

Dessert was a devastatingly chocolate cake with a creamy top, itself topped with a raspberry glaze. It was so rich that neither Sherry nor I could finish it in one sitting. Marvin obligingly boxed it for us so we could take it home to finish enjoying later.

Throughout the meal, Chef Jen appeared periodically to check on everyone.

There were six tables in the room where we were seated and we knew the people at four of them. That made the evening even better than it already was. In fact, it extended it on into Sunday morning because at church, Janet Vinson and I were still kidding each other about being “too rowdy” the evening before.

Now, I’ve had meals that might compare with what Chef Jen served that night. But I’ve never had a meal that good at which I was that comfortable. The meals of that quality that I have been privileged to enjoy in the past were in settings far less relaxed. In those settings, it certainly would not been acceptable for me to talk across the room to Danny Blowe or him to me.

Nor have I ever left such a meal with my budget as intact. At the risk of being gauche, I will tell you that my total tab for the evening was $112. That included the very upscale meal and drinks for our party of four. I would have considered myself fortunate to have done it for four or five times that at the restaurants where you normally would have to go to find such a meal.

Now, go back to the top of this column and re-read those first two statements. If you can agree with either of them, let alone both, you just simply weren’t paying attention.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of The Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.